Thursday, 21 July 2016

A Hullabaloo about Dengaroo

The hot new list coming out of US Nationals is Jeff Berling's runner-up squad, popularly known as "Dengaroo", pairing two of the elite Jumpmaster 5000s for fun and profit.  Well, mostly for profit.

I wasn't sure if I was going to write a blog about this squad or not as both the Mynock Squadron Podcast and now my friend, Bob Derbyshire, have both covered it, so I feel like there's not really that much to add.

What you're going to get from me, mostly, is handy links to both the podcast, Bob's blog and a tournament report from some recent Dengaroo exploits, and then my quick two cents on the things that I think those guys haven't really covered.

Video: US Nationals Final (Dengaroo vs Palp Aces)

Right, onto my two penneth...

High Concept

So Dengaroo might sound like a character from Pokemon Go, but it is in fact a squad in X-Wing.  For the detailed list please explore the links above, but in short I think you can explain the basics of Dengaroo in four words: 

"Fat Han & Palpmobile"

I think framing the list in that way helps you to understand both what's good about Dengaroo, and also what's bad about it.

Dengar takes on the role of his nemesis Han Solo in that scenario - 60 points of 3-dice turreted ship that engages the enemy and does all the heavy lifting and hard work.  Lone Wolf, Zuckuss and the multiple Focus tokens make Dengar's dice very reliable on both offense and defense, much like Han Solo's ability and C-3PO crew helped the Millenium Falcon become a tanky threat that could dominate the table.  In this analogy Dengar's ability for a revenge attack replaces the Gunner/Luke Skywalker you classically saw on Han.  

While Dengar seeks out the enemy to eliminate them Manaroo, on the other hand, behaves a lot more like a Lambda Shuttle with Emperor Palpatine on board and spends most of her time scurrying away from any sign of a fight.  Manaroo is a lover, not a fighter - her role is to cheer  Dengar on from the sidelines by feeding him Focus tokens while he sloops and jinks to his heart's content and the stress tokens from Zuckuss pile up.

Strengths & Weaknesses

There are some subtleties in the comparison to Fat Han that mean you can't just assume Dengar will behave the same way, but as a starting point for understanding what those differences are I think it's pretty good.

The Jumpmaster comes with an extra green dice and packing Countermeasures and Glitterstim as well makes Dengar better against multiple incoming attacks, say from a TIE Swarm, than Han was.  On the flipside relying on those green dice instead of a hard Evade token and C-3PO's guaranteed Evade result means Dengar is a bit less reliable one-on-one with a big-hitting opponent.  Dengar is very well positioned against a field of small ships like TIEs or the A-Wing swarm - Glitterstim and Countermeasures buy him time while the Punishing One's main gun whittles the numbers down a little, and the usual blocking tricks that swarms like to play don't really bother Dengar much as he's not using actions anyway.

That's a big strength of Dengar over Han Solo, and another huge benefit comes in the form of Dengar's bounty hunter buddy Zuckuss.  For 1pt Zuckuss offers you the chance to force your opponent into rerolling as many of his green dice as you want... it just costs you stress.  Normally the benefit of forcing the reroll is balanced by the cost of the stress, but Dengar doesn't care about stress because he's got a white Sloop and Manaroo is giving him actions anyway, so he can use Zuckuss ON EVERYTHING.  Every green dice that comes up an Evade (or a Focus if they've got a token) can get slammed down and rerolled.  

If there's any part of the Dengaroo build that feels 'unfair' it's probably this - the first time you roll three Evades and have to reroll them into two blanks and a Focus you're going to feel like maybe Zuckuss is a problem for 1pt.

The core strength of Dengaroo, then, is dice manipulation.  With Lone Wolf, multiple Focus tokens, Glitterstim and Countermeasures Dengar's dice are very low variance in a good way.  And on the flipside your own green dice get drilled down by Zuckuss and become low variance in a bad way.

That's the key strength of Dengaroo, but the weakness of Dengaroo is that regardless of how good Dengar's dice are he doesn't actually have that many of them.

With Manaroo contributing nothing in most games the whole of Dengaroo comes down to three red dice on offense, and two green dice on defense.

That's it.  That's all there is.

Even if you can reliably roll all-Hits or all-Evades, like Dengar can, you will be still be frequently overwhelmed by people who are simply rolling more dice than you.  Ultimately that's why Dengaroo only took the #2 spot at US Nationals.

A key point of difference between Han and Dengar is precisely what cost Jeff Berling the final game against Soontir Fel: Dengar doesn't control when his 'Gunner' second attack triggers.
When Han Solo is shooting at Soontir Fel he can throw all the red dice and have the shifty Imperial Ace prevent it all, burning Focus, Evade and Palpatine tokens to guarantee survival... but then Han can immediately set up a second shot against Soontir with his Gunner now that the tokens are gone.  Dengar doesn't get to do that, and Fel repeatedly escaped unharmed.

Even at range 1, even with 4 red dice, even with Zuckuss rerolling all of Soontir's green dice... Dengar is still heavily odds-against to push even a single point of damage through against Soontir.   With an Evade token and Palpatine to spend Soontir is guaranteed to prevent 2 hits and he's rolling 4 dice with a ~55% of a getting an Evade of a Focus on each one even after Zuckuss has forced a reroll.  With Manaroo running for the hills there's no second ship trying to block Soontir and set Dengar up, or coming in for a follow-up shot after Dengar has stripped the Interceptor's tokens.  Unless the Imperial ace is stupid enough to fire into Dengar's front arc and trigger the revenge attack the Interceptor is going to be in great shape.

What to do with a wild Dengaroo?

There are some squads that just hate playing against Dengaroo and when you roll up with one of those it can certainly feel like there's nothing you can really do.  Your shots get evaded and in fact you're punished hard for even daring to take them!  Your green dice get stolen away from you as your ships explode, you can't block or stress to create an opening, and you've virtually no chance of cornering Manaroo long enough to take her down with Dengar crawling over your back.

But other squads are probably going to have a pretty good matchup against Dengaroo, and you can characterise them as lists that have two key strengths:
  • Not relying on green dice to survive, minimising Zuckuss' impact.  Either bring plenty of Hull & Shields, or tokens & dice manipulation to fix your green dice after Zuckuss has messed with them.
  • Big red dice attacks to overwhelm Dengar's reliable green dice, ideally with the positioning and/or high pilot skill to stay out of Dengar's revenge arc.

In addition to that theres's a third angle of attack that has relatively few options but could profit, which is that if Dengar's strength is his dice then you could take them away from him with pilots like Kanan, Wedge or Latts Razzi.  In a similar category is Carnor Jax, who can block Dengar from using the Focus tokens on his dice.

So, those few pilots aside, what lists fall into these categories?

Well I actually think Palp Aces does, or at least certain builds of Palp Aces that heavily feature pilots with an Evade token and Palpatine cover, especially those who can move after Dengar and stack Autothrusters on top, are virtually immune to Dengar's attacks and can take their time to chip him down.  Some aces are are poorly-positioned against Dengar - any that don't get an Evade token, for instance, or can't maneuver out of Dengar's arc reliably - but the ones who CAN do that, especially those with Autothrusters, can be pretty rough going for the burly bounty hunter because they play on the weakness that his one attack can be mitigated by once-per-round tokens.

Another list that probably has a good matchup is Triple Jumpmasters, which has survived the recent FAQ pretty much entirely intact.  It's an oddity how different the European and US metagame are in respect to the popularity of Jumpmasters, but my playtest group feel like part of the reason you saw Dengaroo so high in US Nationals is that there's relatively few Jumpmasters being played by the best players over there.  Dengar's defences are poorly aligned for fending off a good Jumpmaster player - Dengar can trigger Countermeasures in the initial engagement but the Jumpmasters can choose not to waste Torpedoes and simply sit the Countermeasures.  The big Torpedo attacks from Jumpmasters are almost guaranteed to land 4 hits and, once Countermeasures is out of the way, will rapidly mince up Dengar's defences.  The recent FAQ has shaved points off the cost of the Jumpmasters and meant more and more players are bringing Boba Fett and his Proton Torpedoes to the fight, and the threat of removing Punishing One with a sneaky crit is real.

From the Rebels side Super Dash is a ship that could be uniquely well-positioned to face Dengaroo.  Few ships in the game can keep pace with Manaroo as she tries to run away but Dash Rendar can, and his big Heavy Laser Cannon shots will rapidly smush Manaroo into pieces then turn on Dengar.  Pairing Dash with a big VCX-100 would also provide another big ship that doesn't rely on green dice to survive against Dengar, and brings four red dice to pummel through Dengar's evades.  You might get similar joy from just actually flying good old Fat Han against Dengar - an Evade action and a second automatic damage prevention from C-3PO are a great start to defending yourself from Dengar and you've plenty of hull to burn on top, while with an Engine Upgrade you're fast enough to either swing out of arc or maybe even chase down Manaroo.

Brobots is another squad that plays a similar game - hitting hard with Heavy Laser Cannons and backing that up with Evade tokens and plenty of Hull/Shields behind the green dice the IG-88s should, in theory, have a good game against Dengaroo.  A lot of players are currently also experimenting with Latts Razzi in the Hound's Tooth as she ticks a lot of the boxes for being good against Dengar - removing his green dice on defense while bringing a Heavy Laser Cannon and a lot of Hull/Shields to eat through.  The one big weakness for the Hound's Tooth is that Dengar's dial is a lot better and if he can get behind Latts then it's tough for the big orange brick to turn around and get back into the fight.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Answering Frequent Questions - Why the FAQ didn't kill Jumpmasters

So, there has recently been an FAQ update that affects the timing of how R4 Agromech works, which  many players have seen as the nail in the coffin of the Triple Jumpmasters squad.  Without R4 Agromech the squad is dead.  It's like Luke's proton torpedo in the battle of Yavin, ironically the inspiration for Deadeye in the first place, smashing the Death Star in one shot.

Except actually it turns out its a lot more like this...

There's two main reasons why this hasn't been the hammerblow you would expect: firstly, there are some good alternatives to R4 Agromech and, more importantly, those alternatives are so good that a lot of players were already using them before the FAQ!

Look, this shouldn't be a surprise.  The VERY FIRST major event that Jumpmasters won, the Hoth Open, featured only one R4 Agromech and two Ovetclocked R4 (which are unaffected by the FAQ).  The very first!!!  

Ever since then many of the most successful Jumpmaster builds have played at least some Overclocked R4, partly to bid initiarive, partly to play useful crew like Zuckuss or Boba Fett, and partly because in some situations it's actually better than R4 Agromech as well as being cheaper.  And then there's the more interesting variants like Manaroo/Overclocked which won a UK Regional and battered my Crack Swarm in the Yavin Open.

And the Overclocked R4 isn't your only option.  If you want to avoid stressing your entire squad you can invest some of the points saving in Dengar or Proton Torpedoes to modify your dice that way instead.  Play with Agromech and Protons then you can fire your first shot without the Target Lock and still get 3.55 hits (just below current 3.7 average) then your second shot had both Proton Torpedo and Target Lock to deal a bumper 3.9 damage.

I don't know if the FAQ was intended to stop Jumpmasters but I do know that, if that was the intention, then it has almost entirely failed.  On Saturday, less than 24 hours since the FAQ was published, Triple Jumps won two Regionals in the UK.

Jumpmasters are going nowhere, they're still 98% as good as they've always been.  Not unstoppable, but very good, and now with up to 3 'spare' points to spend on crew like 4-LOM, Zuckuss, Boba Fett, Greedo... and may even get better in some matchups as a result.